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Hand Washing: Why It's So Important

Why Is Hand Washing So Important?

We hear it all the time for a good reason — hand washing is by far the best way to keep from getting sick and prevent the spread of germs.

What's the Best Way to Wash Hands?

Here's how to scrub those germs away:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Make sure the water isn't too hot.
  2. Use soap and lather up for about 20 seconds. Antibacterial soap isn't a must — any soap will do.
  3. Make sure you get in between your fingers, on the backs of your hands, and under your nails where germs like to hang out. And don't forget your wrists!
  4. Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

When Should I Wash My Hands?

To stop the spread of germs, make a habit of regular hand washing. It's especially important:

  • before eating and cooking
  • after using the bathroom
  • after cleaning around the house
  • after touching animals, including family pets
  • before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
  • after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • after being outside (playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.)

If soap and water aren't available, waterless hand sanitizers, soaps, or scrubs are a good alternative. They're usually available as a liquid, wipes, spray, or towelettes, and often come in small travel sizes that are perfect for keeping in your book bag, car, locker, purse, or sports bag.

How Do Clean Hands Help Health?

Good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses — from the common cold to more serious infections, such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, the flu, hepatitis A, and many types of diarrhea.

How Do Germs Spread?

Germs can spread many ways, including:

  • touching dirty hands
  • changing dirty diapers
  • through contaminated water and food
  • through droplets in the air released during a cough or sneeze
  • on contaminated surfaces
  • through contact with a sick person's body fluids

When you come into contact with germs, you can become infected just by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

So don't underestimate the power of hand washing! The time you spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor's office.

Date reviewed: September 2018